Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 29

Of all weekdays, Thursday and Saturday were the most lucrative for the local businesses. Those nights all stores remained open until 10 p.m. This Saturday night was no exception, but after that hour the crowds thinned, most married locals going home to their wives. Not so for the saloons -- their hours ran until 1:00 a.m., leaving the drinkers and gamblers full sway. Charley noted all card tables in their saloon were well attended, mostly by men with money to spare. The few remaining soldiers from the fort with their meager salaries were keeping the pool tables busy.

"I see your cousin Eugene is holding his own; he's playing with some rough opposition too." John smiled as he cleared beer glasses from the littered bar.

"He seldom loses at cards, he's too darn good. He remembers every card that's played; I envy anyone with a memory like that. Trouble is, he's not much for work except for his bees -- that takes little of his time. 'Course, he never had to work before the war. His side of the family had big holdings -- all gone now, split up, sold piece by piece -- the war saw to that. 'Sides, Eugene never was a planter; he never worked at much."

"I've heard he's been organizing the Democrats in the county."

Charley smiled, "He can be mighty convincing too. We do need someone local to take over the party. He's not a politician, but he's a staunch Democrat."

"I hope we can get everyone out by closing time. I don’t need another long night. Thirteen hours is enough."

Charley glanced casually toward the poker players. "None of those gamblers do much drinking – I can't blame them. It takes a clear mind to throw money around. Tell you what, you've spent the entire day here; I was gone much of the time. We'll leave the clean up until tomorrow. I've nothing planned after church so I'll handle it."

"Swell, Hannah and I plan on taking the girls over to Emerson to visit the Casselman family. We're taking Josey Watkins' children along too. Say, how are you making out with her? Or is it any of my business?"

"Haven't seen her since the library fund-raiser. I've been meaning to stop by; she probably thinks I'm avoiding her."

"You could do worse." John gave him a meaningful look.

"You're right, she is a lovely woman." Charley shook his head sorrowfully, "Trouble is, too much water has gone under the bridge. I admit making a mistake in not asking Marguerite to marry me, but now I don't want to be pressured into another blunder. It's all too soon."

When closing time approached John rapped on the bar with a heavy beer mug, "Time! Gentlemen! Time!"

Grumbling was heard as the card players finished their final hand, but after pocketing their table stakes they gradually drifted out the door. As the last few were leaving, Charley's cousin Eugene hesitated momentarily.

"Got time for some conversation, Charley?"

"Sure, Gene, but let's do it upstairs. We can have a nightcap while we talk."

"Just wanted to gab a bit. I've sent for my Mother and sisters, they're coming soon. It took some persuading."

"I'll just be a minute, then we can go up."

After John left, Charley, accompanied by Eugene, locked up the saloon and turned to his walkup door. Inserting his key in the lock, he puzzled aloud, "Thought I locked the door when I left for supper. Guess I forgot."

As they entered the staircase, Eugene snorted and began to laugh aloud. "Charley, you clever dog, you've got a bedmate. You've been holding out on me."

"What do you mean?"

"Can't you smell her?"

Charley suddenly became aware of a faint pervading odor; he instantly knew whose perfume it was.

Eugene was still chuckling as he turned to leave. "Three's a crowd, I'll see you tomorrow."

Charley knew what Eugene suspected. Embarrassed, he said, I'll stop by your place in the morning. I don't know what's going on upstairs, but I'm going to find out!"

Perplexed, he climbed the remaining steps, hesitating momentarily to strike a match to light the living room lamp. The scent of Josey's perfume was even more pervasive here. Checking the kitchen he found the window propped open; a touch of cool air wafting in. Turning to his bedroom the faint light exposed a fully clothed Josey lying on his bed. From her slow, deep breathing and partially open mouth, he realized she was in a deep sleep.

Returning to the kitchen he lit the table lamp, then using the same match, touched a burner on the oil stove. Quietly he took his time preparing coffee, finally he poured two large cups almost to the brim.

Returning to the bedroom he bent to gently shake Josey awake, his vexation finally dissipated.

"Wake up, sleeping beauty, I've a cup of coffee in the kitchen for you."

Rising sleepily to a sitting position on the edge of the bed, Josey rubbed her eyes, seemingly bewildered. Then guilt came and she felt cheap and foolish. "Oh Charley, I feel so stupid! I wanted us to talk things out and now I've botched it all. I fell asleep. It proves I have no talent at seducing a man."

"Well, at least we can talk about it. I have hot coffee in the kitchen, it'll wake us up." He reached out to grasp her hand. "Come now, before it cools."

Obligingly she allowed herself to be led to the kitchen. There, still drowsy, she finger combed her long blond hair back from her face.

Charley looked amused. "Just what did you have in mind for us?"

Josey looked sheepish, then broke into a whimsical smile. "My intention was to seduce you, forcing you to marry me. Pretty terrible, aren't I?"

"You might have done better by getting into my bed in the nude." Charley broke into a grin.

"I planned to do just that, but that's the story of my life, I failed to follow through." She put the cup to her lips, and then set it down. "Hot and strong. Do you always make it so?"

"You're attempting to change the subject. Was this visit your idea or my Mother's?"

"Both, I guess." She shrugged, "Anyway it seems to have failed." She looked at him intently, "Charley, are we so far apart? We could have a good life. My heart still warms to you. We were so in love long ago."

"It's not the time or place. Mother has raised more hell in my life than I can stand. To face the facts, I should have asked Marguerite to marry me long ago. Now that she's gone, I realize how much I miss her."

"She's left?" Instantly grasping the situation, Josey said, "Then why didn't you go after her when you found her gone? You could have found her."

"After the insults my Mother handed her, I doubt she would even speak with me."

"Then there's no chance for us?"

"Josey, it's just too soon. It's hard to tell you of my feelings, but I think it would be wrong for us to marry. We would have to make too many adjustments. It wouldn't work out. We'd soon be at odds. I can't say I love you, although you are a beautiful, desirable woman. You admit you're really not in love with me, so what's the use of starting something that is sure to fail?”

"Well, you've made your point, you are probably right. I still believe we could enjoy life together, but you've apparently made up your mind." She put the cup down on the table.

"Will you see me home. It might be embarrassing to meet someone on the street, it's so late."

He smiled, relieved. "Certainly I'll escort you home, but it will be disconcerting for both of us if we're seen. Just imagine the talk about town, my seeing you home at two o’clock in the morning." A grin appeared on his face.

At Eliza's rear door she paused to slip her arms around his neck. "You owe me a parting kiss."

The contact was almost brief, and then she dropped her arms, silently entering the house.

Charley found himself with mixed feelings. Am I a fool, letting her go, or am I doing the right thing?

Turning the corner at Cavalier Street he met the town constable making his rounds.

"Trying to steal my job, Charley?" The man chided. "Or is it a love affair?"

"Neither, couldn't sleep, so I'm walking it off." Charley answered.

The following Tuesday, Charley was told that Josey and her children had taken the train for Pennsylvania the previous day.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fur Trade Project (1990)

In 1990, the Department of Anthropology of the University of North Dakota, undertook a survey and testing project known as The Fur Trade of Northeastern North Dakota: The 1990 Fur Trade Sites Project. Some of the sites surveyed were in and around Pembina.

This project, more properly entitled "Survey and Testing of Fur Trade Sites in Northeastern North Dakota (Ecozone #16), 1738-1861," was financed in part with Federal funds from the National Park Service under grant agreement #38-90-50177-2 with UND and administered by the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The fur trade was the commercial medium through which much of the early Euroamerican intrusion into North America was made. Through the fur trade Euroamericans and Native Americans had their first contact. These contacts, in turn, led to the opening of Indian lands to Euroamericans and associated developments. This is also true for the history of North Dakota. It was a fur trader, La Verendrye (aka Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de la Verendrye), and his men that were the first Euroamericans to set foot in 1738 on the lands later designated part of the state of North Dakota. Others followed in the latter part of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. The documents these fur traders left behind form the earliest known written records pertaining to the region. Through these records we can learn much about the early commerce of the region that tied it to world markets, about the indigenous populations living in the area at the time, and the environment of the region before major changes caused by overhunting, agriculture, and urban development were made. This history ties many of us to the early people and interests of the region.

In terms of North Dakota history, the fur trade of northeastern North Dakota provided the context for some of the earliest Euroamerican intrusions into what was later to become the state of North Dakota. The trade along the lower Red River, as well as that along the Missouri River, was the first organized Euroamerican commerce within the bounds of the modern state. Fortunately, a fair number of written documents pertaining to the fur trade of northeastern North Dakota have been located and preserved for study. These documents provide a plethora of data on various historical subjects. They do not, however, provide a detailed accounting of all the activities related to the fur trade. For this we must seek other sources of data, such as archaeological sites. No doubt various remains were left behind by fur traders when they abandoned the region and under favorable conditions of traders when they abandoned the region and under favorable conditions of preservation should be present within the northeastern North Dakota. These remains would be of immense use in learning more about the lives and activities of fur traders and the Indians with whom they had contact. Until the present time no comprehensive study of the fur trade in northeastern North Dakota had been undertaken, nor any systematic attempt to correlate written information on the furt trade with archaeological remains. In an attempt to overcome these deficiencies the 1990 Fur Trade Site Project was initiated...

From Introduction of the project report

A main goal of the project was to identify the locations of the various fur trade operations (of which there were many) in the Pembina area. There is limited documentation of the locations, and there has been much development of the area disturbing the original sites (not to mention many floods...)

Auger probes were used. The few items found were excavated to be studied further offsite, i.e., clay (kaolin) pipe fragments, bone fragments, ceramic doll parts, cut nails, glass and pottery sherds, brass buttons, ax heads, padlocks, brass bells, gun flints, arrow points, marbles, silverware, beads, and thimbles. So far, I have not found out what information was gleaned from these items, if any, at a later date, but hope to track that information down and share it here.

The project reports concludes saying it was "...designed as a preliminary study of the historical and archaeological data pertaining to the fur trade in northeastern North Dakota between 1738 and 1861." They go on to say that their reconnaissance survey findings greatly encouraged them to recommend further intensive archaeological testing. They feel that despite flooding and modern construction disturbances, using modern analytical techniques such as soil and chemical analysis, to name but two, could still reveal substantial information.

"It is hoped that the fur trade site leads, and insight provided by this project, will be used to guide future studies of this interesting and important topic in North Dakota history."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mr. Godon's Map

Here is the map I promised. Mr. Godon drew this awhile back, he told me, from memory. It represents the St. Vincent of his youth, circa the 1940's. Although twenty years before my time, I easily recognize most of it. Some businesses were closed by the time I was growing up in the 1960's/1970's, and some people were either passed on or moved around, but generally speaking, not much had changed. Time moves slowly in St. Vincent.

One thing we laughed about the night of my visit, was that after all these years, the jail is still there!

Although a substantial building, I don't think it has survived simply because of that. No, I think someone has a soft spot for that little bit of town history, and for that, I am glad. Long stand the jail!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Giant Mushroom

Magnificent Magic Minnesota Mushroom
February 22, 2006
By Ken Korczak

Note: The following events, which happened in Caribou Township in northern Kittson County, Minnesota, were described to me by a Lancaster man by telephone. He wished to remain anonymous.

The year was 1959, it was mid-summer, and three young men from the Lancaster area were enjoying a weekend of camping and hunting in the deep woods of Caribou Township. Walking through the woods, they happened upon something that astounded them. In the caller’s words:

“It was a gigantic mushroom about three feet high … it had a thick stem, like a tree stump, and a perfect round top that I guess was four feet in diameter. It was about waist high. We could have played a game of cards on it. It was magnificent!”

Upon closer examination, they noticed the giant ’shroom’ gave off what the caller described as “a tantalizing, savory odor.”

“The only way I can describe it is that the thing smelled like a delicious broiled steak to me. But here’s the weird part. To each of us, it smelled like something different. One of my friends swore it smelled like fresh baked bread, and my other buddy said it smelled like strawberry-flavored cotton candy.

I was astounded when one of my buddies, the one who said it smelled like bread, reached out, tore off a bit of the mushroom and popped it in his mouth! I shouted at him: ‘Are you nuts! It might be deadly poison!'"

But his friend chewed and swallowed the tender chunk of mushroom quickly, and immediately declared it was the most delicious thing he had ever eaten.

“I’ll never forget the way he described it,” the caller said. “He said it tasted like fresh bread that had been baked in heaven by sweet angels.”

We both shouted at him: “How could you be so stupid! … You might be dead in an hour! … Mushrooms are deadly poison," and other stuff like that.

“But amazingly, my friend was not persuaded by us. He said: ‘I don’t care if I die. I just have to eat some more of this — it’s so good it’s worth dying for!’

He then tore off another large hunk of the the tender mushroom meat and stuffed it into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed, and again exclaimed it was like nothing he had ever eaten before — that it was delicious beyond belief. Using his large hunting knife, he began slicing off slabs of the mushroom to take back to camp.

“He didn’t stop until he had cut nearly half the thing cut up,” the caller said. “He took off his outer shirt and used it to wrap up the pile of mushroom meat.

“We returned to our camp, and we kept a close watch on Ben (not his real name). We were certain he would at least get violently ill, but he seemed fine. And to be honest with you, both my other friend and I felt an almost irresistible urge to try the mushroom ourselves … I mean, this was more than a curious desire … we felt absolutely compelled to eat this thing!”

The caller said it was almost as if the mushroom was emitting a subtle hormone, or some kind of scented chemical attractant that was affecting their brains. The urge to eat it was “like a command,” he said.

About an hour later, Ben was not only feeling well, he said he felt “absolutely wonderful and even light-hearted.”

Back at camp, Ben proceeded to do something that would drive his two companions wild.

“Ben took out a frying pan and placed a large dab of butter on it and put it over the campfire. When it had melted, he put a large slab of the mushroom on it an began to cook it in the butter. He cut up some fresh onions and tossed them into the butter alongside the sizzling mushroom steak.

“The savory aroma wafting out from that black frying was just too much. My mouth was watering, and all I could think about was sinking my teeth into that tender, ivory white mushroom steak. My friend and I broke down. We decided to try a hunk of the mushroom. Ben cooked it a bit more, cut the large slab into three parts, and we each settled back and began eating.

“I guess I have no words to describe to you how astoundingly delicious it was! I mean, my mouth and tongue were bursting with flavors that flooded my mind with sensations of taste so varied and so scrumptious, my entire consciousness reeled off into a state of bliss. Imagine the best broiled steak you have ever had, the best pizza, the tang of ketchup, the sweetness of a chocolate shake, the salty crunchiness of hot french fries, the warm white feeling of fragrant homemade bread on your tongue — it tasted better than all of them combined!”

After finishing off the first slab, the three men ate another, and another. Although they ate an enormous amount, their stomachs hardly seemed to register it. They washed it all down with cold Grain Belt beer, and then they all lit up a cigar, sat back and felt perfectly contented, blowing smoke rings and listening to the hushed sounds of the deep Minnesota woods.

For the rest of the night, the three campers felt “amazingly light and happy.”

“We weren’t high or drugged, or anything,” the caller said. “The only way I can describe it is that we felt light-hearted in a way we never have before — as if there were no problems in the world, and that everything in the universe was not just okay, but filled with a subtle joy.”

The caller said that night he slept deeply and remembered having a dream of “floating inside a silver sphere.”

The next day, the three men went back to find the rest of the mushroom, but when they returned, they found that the giant had shriveled into a clump of black fungus.

“We realized it was gone,” the caller said, “but we had no regrets. That experience we had — that amazing feeling of light happiness — is something the three of us never forgot.”

The caller added that he has never had any significant desire to eat wild mushrooms again, and wants to stress to others that they should not dare do what he did, since certain mushrooms are highly poisonous and can cause serious illness or death.

“I just think what happened to us was something that was not normal,” he said. “It was what I would call a paranormal experience. It’s been 40 years, but in a strange way, I would say the day we ate that mushroom was the most remarkable thing that has happened to me in my life. I’ve never seen a mushroom like that again, and as far as I know, they don’t really exist in nature, at least not here in northern Minnesota — it’s all just a big mystery, and probably always will be.”

Friday, January 23, 2009

You Never Know Where...

Two portraits of Norman Kittson, young and old will find local history pop up!

I found the images above on this strange website today. I can't quite make what the site is supposed to be about since it seems to be about anything and everything. To find part of my local history there was surreal indeed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rural Life: Dying or Changing?

We all have seen the decline and depopulation of our hometowns in rural areas, but then you see an inspirational story like this and are reminded it doesn't have to be that way...

Awhile back, Minnesota Public Radio did a series on small town life in Minnesota. It found that "...A number of communities are struggling to manage growth while saving their history. Some say small towns are losing their character. Others say small town life is still good." I daresay most of you from my hometown area reading this - or those of you from other rural areas - will probably agree life is good where you live. I truly don't think those living in rural areas feel stuck there, or disadvantaged, but quite the contrary. It is the spirit of the people that will keep small towns alive.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Maurice Godon

This is Maurice Godon. He was born in St. Vincent in 1935. His parents were William (or Billy) and Florence (Thiefault, sometimes spelled Tefo) Godon. They lived just northeast of my grandparents' home uptown across the little alley. His Dad Billy worked for many years with my Dad at the Noyes depot.

I was recently contacted by Maurice's daughter Sara who came across the story of an infamous relative1 on this blog. I ended up calling her Dad, and we set up a meeting for last night at his home.

I brought along my presentation case which houses my larger photos and paper items like newspapers, to share with Maurice. We began in the living room but soon went to the dining room table where we could see things under better light. The photos were mostly of a time period before he was born so like me, they were new to him. As the evening wore on, he shared with me photos he had, as well as an amazing self-rendering of a map of St. Vincent as he knew it growing up in the 1940's and early 1950's. It is an amazing map, very recognizable even to me although 20 years earlier than my time. I will be sharing that map in another post to better serve it justice.

I'd like to say that I felt right at home with Maurice and his family. There is a common bond between us growing up in St. Vincent which was evident as soon as we met. I received a warm welcome from Maurice, his wife, and his daughter Sara, and greatly enjoyed reminiscing throughout the evening of our memories of our hometown...

1 - 1872: Gilbert Godon, a Metis from the Red Lake district of the Minnesota Territory, has gone down in history as Manitoba's first official outlaw when he killed Benjamin Marchand during a drinking brawl in 1872. Godon was in many fights and usually nothing serious happened until the night of October 10th 1872. Godon and a group of drinking buddies arrived at the Fort Dufferin home of A.J. Fawcett who was selling liquor illegally, when Fawcett refused to serve the new arrivals he was pushed and threatened by Benjamin Marchand. Godon, in defense of Fawcett, intervened and chased Marchand outside. Marchand's son (Benjamin Jr.) retaliated by grabbing a shovel and banging Godon on the head. The fight was then joined by Godon's father and brother and the Marchand's retreated to the backyard. They then attacked the Godon's for a second time and were again repelled. After the victory, Fawcett remembered that he did have some whiskey hidden, and began serving the victors of the fight. An hour later Gilbert went outside for fresh air and ran into young Benjamin in the yard. Fearing another attack, he grabbed Marchand and dragged him inside. Her then knocked him down several times and began striking him on the head with the back of an axe head. Before his family and friends could intervene, Godon struck Marchand in the head with what was to later prove to be a fatal blow from the blade. Fawcett then went to the nearby headquarters of the Boundary Commission (help at Fort Garry was 95 km. north). He returned with fifteen men led by Sergeant James Armstrong of the Royal Engineers. Benjamin died shortly after their arrival so they detained Godon. However, the officer in charge of the Boundary Commision refused to accept responsibility for him and he was released. He then fled across the border into Dakota Territory. Subsequently, a coroner's jury found Gilbert to be responsible for Marchand's death and on November 12, 1873, a grand jury brought a charge of murder against him and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Six months after arriving in North Dakota Godon was involved in another fight and jailed at Pembina. Manitoba's chief constable, Richard Powell, learned of this and traveled to Pembina to return Godon to Winnipeg. On June 19th, 1874, Godon appeared in court and plead not guilty. The following Monday, his trial was held, the jury deliberated for thirty minutes, found him guilty and he was sentenced to hang on August 26th. Godon, however, still had the sympathy of one man, bartender Dugald Sinclair, whose life Godon had saved in 1870. Sinclair began a campaign for clemency and in response to these petitions, the government commuted Godon?s sentence to 14 years imprisonment. He was then transferred to the provincial prison at Upper Fort Garry. On the morning of September 23, 1876, Godon bolted from the work gang he was on, grabbed a small boat and took off across the Red River. He then collected his wife and his horse and again fled to the Dakota Territory. He lived back and forth between Pembina and his brother's place at Emerson. In 1877, Bradley, the Justice of the Peace at Emerson sent a posse to pick Godon up at his brother's house. Godon met them with a revolver in each hand, then in the meelee caused by his mother and sister-in-law he again escaped. In February of 1880 he was again arrested for a brawl at Pembina, locked up again only to escape soon after with Frank La Rose. He and LaRose were reported to be in a Half-Breed camp on the Missouri River five months later. LaRose died shortly after their arrival of hunger and exposure. Gilbert Godon survived, never to be seen in Canada again. - From Metis Firsts in North America

Connections to the Past

One of the amazing things I've learned by my (so far) 35 years of family history and local history research, is that my family has many interesting - and surprising - connections with other early settlers. As I have said here many times, my mother's claim that we were related to almost everyone in the county, is not far from the truth. And it is not only on my mother's side of the family, who emigrated directly to St. Vincent, but also on my father's side, whose connection to the area is more indirect initially, but as deep in the end...

For example, my father's brother, my uncle Robert Short, married a local area girl by the name of Frances Gooselaw.

I didn't realize until recently, when I entered her information in the family tree, that her line traces back to the long-lived Angelica Zaste Gooselaw (Gosselin).

On my mother's side of the family, my uncle John married a local girl named Lena Paul. Aunt Lena was a direct descendant of Cuthbert Grant, an early prominent Metis leader.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chapter 28: Sheriff Charley Brown

Josie found herself both perplexed and apprehensive when Charley failed to contact her during the following days after the library social. She found herself making excuses for him, imagining he was busy at public duties, or working on his farm. Perhaps he was even southwest at the town of Hamilton where he had business interests.

As more days passed she confided her concern to Charley's Mother. "I just can't understand it. When we left the library supper I thought we would reestablish our relationship. Now it seems he is purposely avoiding me."

Eliza made light of the situation. "Be patient my dear. He'll come around soon, I've seen to that."

She smiled smugly, "I broke up his association with that breed girl. I told her he was going to marry you. After all, she is nothing but trash; I told her so."

Josey suspected something had happened, but could hardly believe the so-proper Eliza would do such a despicable thing. Then she recalled long ago when she and Charley were teenagers; he had mentioned the many times he was angry at his father and mother, especially with his mother's constant meddling in his affairs.

Inquisitive, she asked, "When and where did this take place?"

"I visited the girl at the Geroux Hotel a few days ago. That horrid Mrs. Geroux broke in on us, told me to leave the building and not come back. Why, she's just another quarter-breed herself. A pox on her!"

"Oh, Eliza, how could you be so cruel? No wonder Charley is upset. He must know what you have done. I've noticed he hasn't come around for days; he used to drop by frequently."

"So he'll sulk awhile, but he'll eventually see the light. He'll realize it's all for the best. Be patient, nothing is lost. It's just a matter of time.”

"I'm not so sure. Why didn't you leave things as they were? Charley is not a youngster, he is over thirty, been through a war, even escaped from that horrible southern prison in Richmond. Since leaving the Army he has made a successful life here."

"Yes, he has evidently found his niche, a job as sheriff, the same as his Father. Still, to my mind, he still needs a prod in the right direction."

Josie felt her temper rising. "Well, I've thought it over and made up my mind. The children and I will stay for another two weeks, but if Charley doesn't seek me out by then, our remaining here will be pointless. I believe we could have a wonderful, satisfying life together and I've told him so. I only wish I knew what is on his mind."

"Why don't you force the issue? You are a woman, go to his home at a late hour and confront him. You should know what to do."

Josie protested, "That's not the way to his heart. I don't think I could do that. It seems tawdry and disgusting!"

"What's fair in love or war? Perhaps seduction is what he needs. You are a beautiful, warm woman. You are not lowering yourself; if you want him, you must fight for him!"

"You really are pushing me, aren't you?”

"My dear, I've always wanted you for a daughter. But are you really up to it?"

"I'll work something out, but please don't bring it up again. I'll have to give it serious thought."

After going to bed that evening she found herself mulling it over. Would it work? Could she throw caution to the winds? Her sleep was restless as she began making plans. The children were no problem; they were tucked in bed long before 11 p.m. Which night should she approach him, knowing he worked quite late at the saloon? Another question presented itself; did he leave the door leading up to his rooms unlocked?

To be on the safe side, the very next morning she purchased a skeleton key from the hardware section of Myrick's store. She knew that most common cast iron locks could be opened with one.

"Don't sell many of these keys, Mrs. Watkins. I keep track of who buys them too." Myrick smiled. "Having trouble with the door locks at Mrs. Brown's?"

Josie nodded, "It's the back door lock, it seems to stick occasionally."

"Use a little oil in the keyhole and slide, it's been a dry and dusty summer. Need an oil can?"

"No, nothing like that. Eliza and I can no doubt fix it." She could feel a blush of embarrassment at her fib and turned hurriedly to leave.

It was nearing midnight on Saturday when she furtively slipped out through the back door. She knew she must bypass several stores to get to Charley's door. She also knew that anyone she chanced to meet on the street would be puzzled at her presence at this late hour. They would no doubt ask what she was about. Luckily, both Stutsman and Cavalier Streets were totally deserted with the exception of an untended team and wagon and three horses tied in front of Geraldine's Hotel. As she passed she could hear a violin and singing from within.

Finally, by Lyon's Grocery she stopped at the side entrance to Charley's quarters. Tied to the rack in front of the saloon were two saddle horses, heads hung low. One perked up, watching her movement. Directly across the street was another untended team and wagon. No one appeared to be in sight. Trying the doorknob she found the door locked. Fumbling for the key, she inserted it. After a brief twist she felt the slide move. Stepping inside, she quickly closed the door. A brief sense of relief came, thankfully no one had seen her. In the total darkness she could hear activity and the hum of voices coming through the wall to her right. From a pocket she removed several sulfur matches. Leaning forward, she struck one on a gritty step. Carefully she made her way up the stairs, cautiously sliding her hand along the rail. Finally reaching the upper landing she found the door to Charley's flat open. After lighting another match she located the lamp hanging from the center of the room. Standing on tiptoe she was able to raise the chimney and touch the match to the wick. Twisting the roller she lowered the wick, adjusting it to a dim light. Seating herself on a convenient chair by a small writing desk she removed her shoes to mute any steps that might be heard below. Now, accustomed to the limited glow she stood to explore the rooms.

There was a small bedroom just inside the outer door, but she deemed it to be an extra sleeping room. Moonlight from outside partially illuminated the kitchen, outlining the door. Now she was able to make out a table, chairs and a glass-fronted cupboard. The shadowy outline of a kerosene cook stove stood opposite the table. Noting the heat and stuffiness in the room she silently raised the window sash, inserting the stick lying on the sill. Turning back, she found the entrance to a larger bedroom and suddenly froze. Something inside had moved! After long seconds she realized a large mirror over the dresser had caught her image.

His bed was narrow, with wrought iron ends. As near as she could tell it was made up with a blue coverlet. She suddenly realized that everything in his quarters seemed neat, unusually clean. A puzzling thought came; does he have a housekeeper or some other girl I don't know about?

Then she remembered how fussy and methodical he had been as a youth. She smiled, that was his mother's early training! Again, unable to cope with the fetid air in the room she raised both east bedroom windows facing the street. Returning to the living room she noted the rectangular dining table with chairs. Behind it stood a huge glass-fronted bookcase almost totally filled with rows of books. One glass-fronted section was open showing a few books missing. Across the room was an overstuffed divan with matching easy chair.

Picking up her shoes she raised the glass of the ceiling lamp to blow it out, then entered Charley's bedroom. After seating herself on the bed, she placed her shoes on the floor, then lay back and relaxed. "What should I do now?" She debated. She knew she should remove her clothes and get under the covers, but her conscience rebelled. Making herself as comfortable as possible she wondered what Charley's reaction would be when he found her on his bed. She knew she was throwing herself at him like a trollop. Would he take her? After long minutes she doubled the single pillow under her head, and cupped her fingers behind her neck, interlacing them. After long minutes the tenseness faded and fatigue set in. She finally fell into a deep sleep.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Minnesota Norwegians

The Norwegian journalist Paul Hjelm-Hansen was appointed by the governor of Minnesota as a special agent of the newly established Board of Immigration on June 5, 1869, recommended by Senator Aaker. Helm-Hansen was mostly concerned with promoting Norwegian settlement. His name has to a special degree become associated with the Red River Valley, and he is regarded as the one who opened up this area, in both North Dakota and Minnesota, to Norwegian settlement.

He emigrated from Norway a mature and experienced man of fifty-seven in 1867. He became concerned with the increasing number of his compatriots who for one reason or another settled in a city, such as Chicago, where, as he warned in Norwegian-American newspapers, they would become a part of a workers' proletariat, re-create the conditions they had left by emigrating, and be "doomed to poverty and annihilation." He made himself a spokesman for the healthy life as a farmer on the fertile soil of Minnesota.

In the summer of 1869, Hjelm-Hanson went by ox-drawn wagon from Alexandria in Douglas County all the way to the Red River district [the region around the Red River of the North in what became Manitoba...] When he returned to Alexandria after three weeks, he wrote his travel accounts, sixteen in all. These were printed in the newspapers Nordisk Folkeblad (Nordic People's Paper) and Fadrelandet og Emigranten (The Fatherland and the Emigrant). Hjelm-Hansen underscores how advantageous the new regions would be for "Scandinavian farmers" and how healthy "the clean air" is. For potential farmers, it was perhaps more important to know that the land was "to the highest degree fertile and extraordinarily easy to cultivate, for there was not as much as a stone or a stump to block the plow."

From The Promise of America by O.S. Lovoll
My own family, on my father's side, was part of that wave of Norwegian emigration. They settled in Polk County near McIntosh, Angus, and Tabor. Later his uncle opened a cafe in St. Vincent, and while working there, my father met a local girl he eventually married, my mother...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Operation Stonegarden

The Grand Forks Herald and the Fargo Forum have both run a story about two local law officers who are working part-time patrolling the border, literally. The funding comes from a federal initiative called Operation Stonegarden. Between the Predators and the extra eyes these men provide, the border should definitely be a bit more secure up home. It's not as quaint as the days gone by, but it's a lot safer...

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dog Sleds & Pembina

The voyageurs driving the dogs rarely rode on the sleds. On a well packed trail the drivers ran on snowshoes, following the sleds. Sometimes the drivers used tag lines to help control the vehicle and they always brandished a whip which was combined with a healthy dose of strong language to control the team. If no packed trail was available the drivers hiked ahead of their animals, using their snowshoes to pack the trail. Sometimes drivers had to break trail for days at a time. On January 13, 1802 Alexander Henry set out from his Red River post for the Assiniboine, by way of Riviere aux Gratias and upon his return he recorded, “Each of my men had a train of two dogs, with my baggage and provisions, and I a train drawn by three stout dogs. Snow very deep; my men were obliged to beat the road all the way on snowshoes. We were one day going to Riviere aux Gratias; five thence to Portage la Prairie; five thence to Riviere la Souris; two thence to Delorme’s house in the Hair hills ; four to Langlois’ house; and one back to Panbian (Pembina) river. All this distance my men walked hard upon snowshoes.”

If the eighteen days that Henry’s men spent breaking trail were at all typical, they were probably very long days indeed. The dog-sledge traveling day usually began many hours before sunrise and didn’t end until well into the long winter nights. Alexander Henry was no stranger to this routine. His journal entries made while 1811 show that on February 4th the party started at 4:30 am, and on February 12th they were on the trail at 3:00. On that day they made camp early, at 3:00 p.m. because the dogs were too exhausted to continue. More often than not the voyageurs stayed on the trail until daylight had long been replaced by the feeble glow of the Northern Lights.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Intertribal Trade

"The Arikara, Mandan and Hidatsa were all middlemen who participated in a trading network that stretched across western North America. Nomadic groups traded the horses they had acquired from the Spanish Southwest, the French and British goods they had received from Canada, and the Euro-American goods they had obtained from the expanding St. Louis-based fur trade for the corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins these groups grew near their semi-sedentary earth-lodge villages"


By the time the fur trade finally declined in the 1870's, the cultures of the Plains [Indians] had been transformed beyond recognition. The enduring legacy of the fur trade was to leave the Indians in a state of chronic dependency that persists to the present day. Ultimately, by destroying the animal resources of their environment, it eroded not only their traditional economy but also their very way of life, forcing them to leave hunting behind for a sedentary existence on reserves.

According to p. 92 of this book, it was "...on the foundation of an extensive intertribal trade that the white man built up...commerce" in the early days of exploration into the continent. I've often come across references to a long-standing rivalry or feud between the Ojibwa and Sioux. It was in large part as a result of new alliances of some tribes with the French, and some with the English, which in turn made it profitable for some to foster hostilities between old foes (in this case the Ojibwa) and new allies (Sioux).

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Silent Prairie: Solitude, Isolation, Insanity

E.V. Smalley, a well-known agricultural writer, had much to say in the 1890's about the lonesome lives of the pioneers who settled on individual farmsteads. He pointed out that European farmers usually lived in villages and enjoyed a full social life in the village compound. The women had a chance to talk to each other in the village and to visit each others homes frequently. Children had playmates close at hand; the school and the church were convenient places to get together. The old men sat outside in front of their houses and spoke with all those who went by. The mailman and the peddler made their daily rounds. The homes of these European farmers might have been small and meagerly furnished, but they were well built and for centuries they had offered good protection against the weather. Such a pleasant social setting helped to offset the many hardships and the monotony of a peasant's life.

This picture of the old country was a decided contrast to the life of the American farmer on the western frontier. Here he lived in isolation, often in order to satisfy the requirement of the Homestead Act. The long, cold winters of Red River land were ideal for "the natural gregarious instinct of mankind to assert itself," and to gather around each others hearth fires. But the American farmers' houses, set in the middle of the farms, were too far apart for much visiting. Besides, the pioneer could not afford a solid, weatherproof house like his European counterpart, so he often existed miserably in "a flimsy wooden frame house and if it were not for tar paper and sod he would find himself covered with snow or dirt after each storm." They had left "pleasant little homes in neat farm villages of Europe [or New England] to settle in sod or tar paper houses on the bleak prairie of America." Because of his poverty, the pioneer's home was frequently a "cramped one room house with one window" and from that window all he could see was the wide open prairie, his own straw stack, and occasionally smoke arising from his neighbor's house, anywhere from one-half to five miles away. O.A. Olson explained his father's first impression of the Dakota Prairie:
Go West, young man, said Greeley:
Go West, where land is free.
I went, I saw, I settled
On a prairie without a tree.
From the first storm in November to the last in April, there was little social life for the early settlers except a bi-monthly trip to the general store in the nearest village. This trip was made by all the members of the family if the weather was good and the village was not too far away. At the store the men liked to sit around the stove and talk to find out what had happened in the world since they had last been to town. If the trip was too long or the weather too severe, the men of the family went to town alone to get the provisions. Many times conditions permitted travel only by foot. Social calls on the neighbors "were not what they should be because everyone lived too far apart and the weather and roads too contrary."

The frontier lacked homogeneity not only because of the distance between the homes, but also because the settlers had come from so many diverse areas that they lacked even a common language and a common background. This great disadvantage kept them apart even though they strongly felt the need for social intercourse "which next to food, clothing, and shelter, is an essential to life." One contemporary writer asked, "Is it any wonder that there is a great amount of insanity among the settlers?"

From The Challenge of the Prairie, by Hiram M. Drache

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Story of Orphan Joe

This story was told to Mr. LaFromboise by his father Louis LaFromboise. It is about an orphan Metis by the name of Joe LaFoyee...

This orphan Halfbreed boy Joe LaFoyee went on the buffalo hunt from Walhalla Dakota Territory in 1853 he being about 20 years old at the time. He and two other Half Breed men - Mr. LaFromboise does not remember their names - took 3 tobaggans with 3 dogs to a tobaggan with them on the hunt. Joe LaFoyee and his two partners came across a herd of buffalos about 60 miles west of Walhalla Dak. Territory. Joe's two partners shot a buffalo and Joe's dogs ran after the herd and threw Joe LaFoyee off his tobaggon.

There was a snow storm starting and Joe could not find his dogs. So he went back to where his two partners had shot the buffalo . When he got to where they were they were just loading the buffalo on there tobaggans. Joe told them that he had lost his dogs. He told them that he was going to look for them. His two partners told him that they would wait till noon for him, it being about 7 O'Clock in the morning then. His two partners waited until 4 O'Clock in the afternoon and a bad snow storm started and Joe's partners were sure Joe had got lost.

Joe LaFoyee had got lost and he walked north into Canada about 60 miles. He froze his feet. He was lost for 11 days. At night he would make a bed of bushes and in the day time he would keep on walking. On the 11th day he reached a woods on the Canadian side of the boarder and sat down on a log to rest. Just as he sat down he heard a shot, and he looked around and saw an elk coming towards him. When the elk got just a few yds. in front of him, it dropped dead. Pretty soon an Indian came along to where the elk had dropped. The Indian took off his coat and started to skin the elk. Joe LaFoyee tryed to holler at the Indian, but he was too weak to holler loud, so he tried to get up and he could not get up.

The Indian look around and saw him, and Joe waved at him to come over where he was. The Indian picked up his gun and went over to where Joe LaFoyee was sitting. When the Indian saw that Joe's feet were frozen and Joe half starved, the Indian told Joe he would go and get his dogs and tobaggan. The Indian lived about 1/2 mile from where he was sitting. The Indian got his dogs and tobaggan and some blankets and loaded Joe LaFoyee on the tobaggan. The Indian brought along a piece of bear's fat and told Joe to suck it , not too swallow it. When the Indian got Joe to the Indian's shack, he had his squaw make him some stew from buffalo meat and gave Joe the stew.

He kept Joe at his place for 24 hours, then he loaded Joe on the tobaggan and brought him to Walhalla Dak. Territory. It took the Indian 3 days to make the trip of about 120 miles. They arrived at Walhalla Dakota Territory at 11 O'Clock at night . The Indian took Joe LaFoyee to Old Man Morinette's place; this was the man that Joe stayed with before he went on the buffalo hunt.

Mr. Morinette sent out word that Joe had arrived home alive. The people thought that Joe had died. They then called for an old maid by the name of Miss Grumbo, she was a kind of doctor among the halfbreeds and Indians at Walhalla Dakota Territory. Miss Grumbo had Joe moved over to her place. She took off all his toes on both feet.

It took about 2 months to cure Joe LaFoyee. About 1 year later Joe LaFoyee married Miss. Grumbo. That was in 1854. Joe LaFoyee and his wife went to Manitoba in 1865.

From the Biography of Joseph LaFromboise [Pembina County Pioneers Project]

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Red River Sled Dog Derby 2009

I have written about past sled dog races, never thinking I'd have an opportunity to write about its revival, but it's happening! Talk about exciting; to have sled dogs racing the Red River Valley again after nearly a century is indeed something to celebrate...

Todd Lerol, President of the Red River Sled Dog Derby Association, shared this with me:
I started training sled dogs and along with that came an interest in the history of dog sledding in the Red River Valley. My wife and I would like to see a race as close to the original Winnipeg to St. Paul Dog Derby as possible. There are a number of other things involved that would need to take place to have this happen. To get the mushers to come here, sponsors need to be obtained. An increased interest from the communities to have a winter event is also necessary. This all started during a year that most of the sled dog races that we had entered were cancelled due to a lack of snow. Emails were sent out to communities from Winnipeg to Fargo. Halstad, MN was the first community to be motivated in putting an event together with us. This past year a race organization was formed to work on planning the race for the coming year and to set goals for future growth of the race. This year we are seeing good interest from the mushers and some interest from sponsors. Currently the race is 150 miles. We are seeking volunteers to assist during the race this year and will have the first meeting with volunteers in Halstad on January 25 at 3:15 pm.
If anyone reading this has any interest in participating in the event or have any other questions on the race, be sure and check out the derby's website.

Approaching the Thompson Bridge south of Grand Forks, ND, on the Red River of the North...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

US/Canadian Border: Increased Security

I guess this will be mean no more being waved through...

On Saturday [December 8, 2008], a Predator drone touched down at Grand Forks Air Force Base, ND. The unmanned spy plane will provide eyes in the sky for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which currently employs three Predators to monitor the US-Mexican border.

The Predator's arrival was delayed by mechanical failure on Thursday -- and bad weather forced cancellation of another flight on Friday. According to the Grand Forks Herald, a Citation jet accompanied the drone on its cross-country journey from Sierra Vista, Ariz., in order to comply with FAA regulations.

Complying with civilian flight rules remains a tricky issue for the pilotless aircraft. Aviation Week reports that Customs and Border Protection has yet to reach agreement with the FAA on the flight restrictions for the Predator that will operate along the Canadian border. Initially, that drone will be controlled from North Dakota; its surveillance feed will be piped to operations centers in Washington, D.C., and Riverside, Calif.

Customs and Border Protection is planning to establish unmanned aerial vehicle operations centers for Northern Border Region and the Southeast Coastal Region. Drones in the north will focus on homeland security and defense; in the Southeast Coastal Region, they will focus on maritime security missions.